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St Mary & St Peter Fairstead

Click here to see photographs of Fairstead Church taken by Chris Broadhurst and David Boyle

Notes on Fairstead Church. 

Fairstead is a Saxon name meaning a fair or pleasant place. A Roman villa once stood near where the church now stands and bricks from it have been used in the building of the church itself.

The church is one of the earliest in Essex and the aisle-less nave and part of the chancel were built in the eleventh century. The chancel has been extended, probably about 1200, and the tower is thought to have been added at the same time or a few years before. The spire, however, was not added until about 1600.

Roman bricks have been used as quoins in the tower, the nave and in the chancel. The west doorway, now blocked up, has a semi circular arch of Roman bricks.

The main church furniture consists of 15th century pews with linenfold bench ends and there is a fine, ironbound, dugout “parish chest”, 9 feet long and made from a single piece of oak, thought to date from the 13th century.

The church has four bells. The oldest was made by Peter de Weston about 1340 and must be the original bell. A second was added in 1601 and a third in 1725, the fourth, and last, being added in 1786. The bells were rehung in 1889/90; the present state of the bell cage does not permit them to be rung over and at the present day they are only chimed.

The 13th century wall paintings were discovered during the restoration of the church in 1890 when the plaster was removed. Professor E. W. Tristram restored them when the church was again restored in 1934/36.

 They were cleaned again by Mr Rowse in 1966. The oldest paintings, which are above the chancel arch, (early 13th century) represent the Passion of Christ. Those on the south wall depict St Christopher and a scene believed by some to represent the Shepherds and the Angel and by others the miracle of Longinus. There is, at the west end, a curious grotesque head in a horn-like headdress.

There are the remains of two separate sets of consecration crosses. The church is dedicated to both St Mary the Virgin and to St Peter and it must be presumed that the second dedication coincided with the enlargement of the church referred to earlier. The earlier crosses are those within a circle and the Latin type crosses are later.

In addition to the 13th century paintings there are also two bidding prayers in black letter inscriptions in the nave. That at the east end of the south wall is for King James 1 and that on the west wall, although now illegible, is reported to have consisted of a text from the Epistle of St James, chapter 5. “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries….”

The church also contains a coffin lid from a Crusader’s tomb, set now against the south wall and next to the stairway to the rood loft which has long since been removed. The Royal Arms on the north wall are those of King George 111 after 1801. The wood carving of shepherds, angels and the star, was placed in the east wall when the church was restored in 1934.